Chocolate Chip Cookies & Witches

Posted by: Amy in Other faiths

Tagged in: women , relationships , rape , marriage , forgiveness

Read Jacqui's inspirational testimony of her rural upbringing, sexual abuse, occult encounters, a troubled marriage, and eventualy the greatest friendship that set her free.


JACQUI DOESN'T look like a witch, or even an ex-witch. Not a trace of green skin, no cat, no broomstick... Joking apart, one might expect a woman who spent many years meeting other pagans in tree circles by night to have something - eccentric? - about her. In fact, Jacqui's a very normal, very nice, cheerful mum of three (with a talent for cooking choc-chip biscuits).

Yet, as we sit munching some of the said (delicious) choc biscuits, she unfolds a story that is not very "normal" - and certainly not nice.

Jacqui grew up in what she describes as "a very rural, very pagan part of England" in a childhood of farms and fishing in the river ("you could get brown trout"), of sunsets, hedgerows and hay bales.

"I remember a mate going to sleep in the hayfield and we built a 'hay-house' around them so when they woke up they were in the dark" remembers Jacqui with a chuckle.

But her childhood wasn't all idyllic. Jacqui pauses, then quietly tells me about the sexual abuse she suffered from a close family member between the ages of four and fourteen.

"He was a sailor in the Merchant Navy. When he was on leave, he would shower me with a lot of gifts; buying my silence." Much later, he was arrested for another sexual offence and Jacqui went to the police with her story - after years of painful silence.

"I think my parents knew," reflects Jacqui, "to a degree. I think they covered it up. Back then sexual abuse was a taboo subject."

Partly because of this troubled home life, Jacqui would spend a lot of time with her grandmother, a big influence on her. It was her grandmother who first introduced Jacqui to witchcraft.

"She would teach me things you would say were very -" Jacqui searches for a word and settles on "unchristian. Wax effigies. Charms. And she would take me to meetings of her friends."

I lean forward. (This must be where the broomsticks come in.) "A coven?" I whisper.

But Jacqui is nonchalant. "It was just a meeting of friends. 'Coven' wasn't a word that was used - though it boiled down to that."

Jacqui's exploration of the occult deepened in her teenage years along with many of her friends. But she is careful to point out that she didn't see it as "becoming a witch".

"Teenagers today probably would term it as that - the whole Americanised 'Wicca industry'. Twenty-plus years ago you wouldn't. It was more to do with worshipping nature and the elements. Vibes. Channelling positive energies."

Not exactly Wicked Witch of the West, I think to myself. At 20, Jacqui hitched to the Midlands, got a job, and decided to stay there. It was around this time she first bumped into some people from the Jesus Fellowship.

"I used to let them come round to my place in bed-sit land and we'd talk and pray. I was quite open to God and began to take steps away from paganism. They brought their flapjack and flasks - and these odd glass mugs. After they'd all gone, I realised that there was a mug left under the bed. I washed it up, thinking 'I'll give it back next time I see them'. It never actually happened. I mention it because that mug stayed with me for years and has a part in the story."

Jacqui's involvement with the Jesus Fellowship at that time was short-lived, mainly because around the same time as meeting them, she also met Jimmy - who she moved in with and later married. They moved back South-West and had three children.

Yet the marriage ran into difficulties: Jacqui began to suspect that Jimmy was seeing someone else.

"I became more and more convinced," Jacqui sighs. "Jimmy went off and did his own thing a lot. He'd joined the police and had so-called 'training weekends' and 'duties'. But things didn't add up: receipts in pockets from the wrong places and so on."

Later Jacqui was to find that he had indeed been having an affair. In fact he had another family. At the time, they just grew further and further apart. With Jimmy increasingly absent, Jacqui picked up some old friendships in the pagan scene.

During her years away it had all got heavier.

"There was a guy called Dan who was kind of running things. He was doing things which I called 'negative energy'. He would summon spirits up - which was scary.

"He was 'high priest'. You have certain degrees that you go through when you are a coven - ranks, basically. Dan said he wanted me to be his 'high priestess', through a ceremony called the Grand Rites. There are two ways you can do this: symbolically or - physically."

As Jacqui talks, the room seems to darken. She tells me how, over the months, Dan used the ritual as a pretext to try and push Jacqui to have sex with him. As Jacqui resisted ("I was married and just saw it as wrong") things "started to get nasty". Dan became threatening, cornering Jacqui when he knew she was on her own. Jacqui decided she "wanted out" of the coven.

"It was about this time, just when things were getting really heavy, that I found the Jesus Fellowship's glass mug," recalls Jacqui, smiling faintly. "It reminded me; like a message, almost. I got in touch again, after many years, via the Jesus Army forum on the web."

Meanwhile, things got heavier and heavier with Dan.

"It was early February. I remember it had been snowing. Dan had given me an ultimatum to do what he wanted by a particular pagan festival called Imbolc. I'd dropped the kids off to school and Dan turned up in the car and I got in; a great mistake."

Jacqui takes a deep breath. "Round where we lived there are lots of ancient tree circles, used by the Druids. We were driving past one. He stopped the car and the next thing I knew he'd dragged me out, into the trees."

Her description of the rape that followed is muffled by tears; Jacqui's horror of the memory is palpable.

"I couldn't tell anyone. I couldn't report it to the police. It's difficult to explain, the whole coven secrecy thing. I'd taken various oaths..." Jacqui's voice is very quiet. She adds: "And, for me, it was like the pact of silence I'd experienced as a child about the abuse. I guess I'd been there before."

Trapped in silence, Jacqui was sure about one thing: she wanted to get right out of the coven. But who to turn to? Jacqui's recently renewed friendship with people in the Jesus Fellowship, via the web forum, became a lifeline.

"Eventually, I went to stay at a Jesus Fellowship house for a few days. I didn't say much about what I was going through, but the friendship really helped - and I was finding my way to real faith in Jesus" Jacqui says. "It was at that time that I found out about Jimmy's affair as well - so I certainly needed support!"

Her friends in the Jesus Fellowship, together with a determination to stay strong "for my kids" gave Jacqui fight. After a number of other threatening incidents involving Dan, she decided to take action: she told Dan she was going to the police. Not long after that Jacqui heard he was moving away. The nightmare was coming to an end.

"I still had threatening and abusive messages online for a while after Dan moved," remembers Jacqui, "but from then on I became much more involved with the Jesus Army. I was getting stronger in myself."

Slowly Jacqui found herself getting restored and healed - and deepening in faith towards Jesus. "I don't trust quick, sudden dramatic changes" she says. "They can be quickly, suddenly reversed!

"But I found that Jesus is a friend; a friend who is for you even if you mess up." In early 2006, Jacqui was baptised as a Christian.

"It felt like I'd come through the wilderness and out the other side." Jacqui smiles. "Now I had a new chance to get life the right way round!"

I ask her what her message is to those who might be trapped in similar occult or abusive situations. "Get out of the secrecy" she replies, "whatever has happened. And whatever you've done, there's always room for you with God."

What a lovely woman I think, as I reach for yet another choc biscuit.

Names have been changed

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